Archive for year 2006

Fourth and inches …

Title game pink slips were handed out left and right last weekend to former contenders including the Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, LSU Tigers, and Georgia Bulldogs … the Auburn Tigers are almost toast, unless they can throttle the Florida Gators this weekend and win out the rest of the way to claim the SEC title … on the flip side, the Gators could afford to lose to Auburn in a close game, and they’d still have a shot at the national title, depending on how other match-ups play out over the last half of the season.

Who stands to be eliminated from the national championship picture this week? Auburn is the only team facing a stout enough opponent to worry about elimination … any other teams eliminated this week would be considered huge upsets … can you imagine Baylor knocking off Texas, or Cincinnati upending Louisville?  Conversely, a close loss to Michigan State would not knock the Buckeyes out of the title chase, nor would a close loss to Penn State push the Michigan Wolverines out of contention … it sure would make the picture a lot fuzzier, though.

It will be very interesting to see how Michigan reacts to the loss of the Big Blue M&M (Mario Manningham) in their road game against the Nittany Lions.  The Wolverines have enough receiving talent to take care of business at State College … but this should be a close game with the edge going to the team displaying greater mental toughness and the ability to capitalize on turnovers.

One of the better Thursday night games of the season takes place this week when Boston College hosts the Virginia Tech Hokies.  Both teams have a conference loss and cannot afford to lose this contest if they hope to make the ACC championship game … it should be a barn burner … Josh Hyman, the second-leading receiver for the Hokies (13 receptions) has been suspended indefinitely by Frank Beamer for violating team rules and will not play …

Pssst…wanna know who the two yahoos are that are casting first place votes for West Virginia in the AP poll? You can find out the weekly ballots of all the AP voters at: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/external/onlinenews.ap.org/collegefootball_rankings/voters.php

Or, I can save you the time … Kevin Pearson from the Riverside Press-Enterprise and Scott Wolf from the Los Angeles Daily News are the two football writers who actually think a Mountaineer team with zip wins over ranked teams this year should be #1 over an Ohio State team with three quality wins over ranked teams.  Wolf also has a Southern Cal football blog where he posts his weekly AP poll votes and gets ragged on by his readers (www.insidesocal.com)

Did you know that Frito Lay, the largest snack company in the universe, bought the naming rights to the national championship game for the next four years from FOX Sports for their Tostitos brand?  Don’t get confused … this year there will be a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game followed a week later by the Tostitos National Championship game staged in the same venue.

Halloween came a bit early for the Trojans … as if the thriller in Pullman wasn’t enough to send USC fans into cardiac arrest, Troy’s boys did it again to their fans last week—in the Coliseum, of all places—when Washington ran out of time on the Trojans’ 15-yard line as they were driving for the winning score. Now, USC has to face a well-rested Arizona State Sun Devils team coming off a bye week, and anxious to make a statement after their blowout losses to Cal and Oregon. One catch  … ASU’s Dirk Koetter has lost all eleven Pac-10 games he has coached that were played in California.

A tip of the cap to Ty Willingham for the solid turnaround he is engineering at Washington … Coach Willingham is a class act and he didn’t deserve the type of treatment he received from Notre Dame boosters and administrators.

Cal might very well benefit from the USC scare in Pullman two weeks ago. There’s an advantage to knowing that you are shark bait. I guess Wazzu would prefer the term “cougar bait,” but regardless, Cal knows what’s lurking in Pullman and they can take all necessary precautions … it should be a close game, but Cal is beginning to smell the Roses right now and that’s a mighty powerful antidote against a letdown.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What two teams own an undefeated record over the Texas Longhorns (minimum two games played)? The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches

And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is … Chris Kelly, of Indianapolis…Chris was the first to correctly answer the question:  What particular stat line drove Penn State Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno absolutely nuts in the 1989 Holiday Bowl?   The correct answer was Ty Detmer passing for 576 yards, 594 yards total offense (both Holiday Bowl records) in BYU’s 50-39 loss to Penn State.

Heisman’s Dark Horse: Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies … The Wolfe Man actually had a down week with only 162 yards rushing, but he remains tops on my list … Signature game versus Ohio State: 272 all-purpose yards, 172 of those yards coming on the ground, 1 TD. Season Stats: #1 ranked running back in Division 1: 156 carries, 1,343 yards, 8.6 ypc, 223.8 ypg, 13 TDs. Last week: 162 yards, 2 TDs at Miami (Ohio).  This week: at Western Michigan.

Streaking in the wrong direction … Colorado Buffaloes are now 0-6 … Stanford Cardinal are 0-6. Colorado’s overall losing streak of 10 games, which extends to last season, has equaled the longest losing streak in the history of the Buffaloes program (set in 1963-64). I still expect the Buffs to win 2-3 games this season. Stanford has two shots at winning a game this year: this week at home against Arizona and Nov 18 at home versus Oregon State.

BYU’s John Beck was named the Mountain West Conference’s offensive player of the week for the third time in four weeks after going 16-21, 267 yards, and 4 TDs in the Cougars 47-17 rout of San Diego State … the 6’2” 212 senior is looking more and more like a first round draft pick with many of the NFL draft watch lists rating him a top 3 QB prospect.

Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Texas Longhorns (plus 28) stampede the Baylor Bears … Louisville Cardinals (plus 27) drop some bird doo-doo on the Cincinnati Bearcats … Boise State Broncos (plus 26) stomp the New Mexico State Aggies, and the Clemson Tigers (plus 44) chew up and spit out feathers versus the Temple Owls.

Best Games of the Week: Virginia Tech Hokies @ Boston College Eagles … Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ Navy Midshipmen … Ohio State Buckeyes @ Michigan State Spartans … California Golden Bears @ Washington State Cougars … Florida Gators @ Auburn Tigers … Michigan Wolverines @ Penn State Nittany Lions … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ North Carolina State Wolfpack … Colorado State Rams @ Air Force Falcons … Missouri Tigers @ Texas A&M Aggies.

This Week’s Upset Specials … Wyoming Cowboys have a trap set for the Utah Utes. The Cowpokes have a tough defense, they’re battle hardened, and, they are tough to beat in Laramie … It doesn’t seem like much of an upset, since Auburn was #2 just last week, but they are currently nine spots down from Florida and the underdogs at home. I like them to bounce back with a furious effort against the Gators.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES: Another earthquake shook the AP poll this week with huge seismic action knocking some teams like Auburn and Oklahoma down 9 slots, while Cal is thrust upward 6 slots, and Georgia Tech rides the action up 5…and yet, once again, there is stability at the top of the heap with the Buckeyes standing tall as king of the mountain at the midway point of the season…Heisman hopeful Troy Smith and his mates toyed around with the Bowling Green Falcons last weekend 35-7…Smith was 17-20, 191 yards, 3 TD tosses…he left enough game clock for backup QB Justin Zwick to go 4-9, 57 yards…Ted Ginn, Jr. had 10 receptions for 122 yards and a score. Remarkably, Antonio Pittman was held to 61 yards on 13 rushes, although he did have two scores on the day…this week is a tough one, regardless of what anyone might say…the Michigan State Spartans are hurting big time and nothing could salve that hurt like an upset of the number one team in America and conference rival to boot. Beware OSU, you don’t want to toy around with the Spartans…they’re like an injured and cornered alley cat.

NO. 2 FLORIDA GATORS: OK, so Tim Tebow isn’t pretty. The University of Florida fans love the southpaw freshman quarterback, anyway … Tebow only participated in 15 plays in Saturday’s 23-10 victory over LSU (a game in which the Gators were slight underdogs at home), but accounted for three touchdowns — one on a short scoring run in which he moved LSU’s 500-pound-bench-pressing linebacker Luke Sanders backward, the other on touchdown passes to Tate Casey (a “jump pass” that looked like something out of a bad football movie) and Louis Murphy … the Gators actually won the game during a two-minute stretch to open the third quarter … first, the normally reliable Early Doucet fumbled a kickoff, was then leveled by Riley Cooper while trying to pick it up, and LSU was forced to fall on the ball in the end zone for a safety … the Tigers then had to give the ball back, and Tebow hit Murphy from 35 yards out five plays later … the Florida defense, bolstered by the return of DT Marcus Thomas (back after a lengthy suspension for flunking a drug test) took over from there … the Gators continued to demonstrate that they have one of the best secondaries in college football, with Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith (a Californian who transferred to Florida from Utah when Urban Meyer switched jobs) seemingly always around the football … Florida QB starter Chris Leak had a decent game, 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards, but did little to better his Heisman chances … and despite their now-lofty poll position, the Gators can’t get too high, because their next assignment is to face an angry Auburn team on the road Saturday.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS: There’s an old adage that goes, “what doesn’t hurt you makes you stronger…” and the last two weeks of scares from Wazzou and the Washington Huskies should ultimately make the Trojans a better team down the stretch…at least that’s the theory Pete Carroll is telling his boys…injuries are certainly taking their toll on the talent rich USC squad…some back-ups have been failing to fill their assignments as ably as expected…John David Booty was a mere 23-40, 243 yards with a score and a pick against UW…kicker Mario Danelo was the real star of the game with four field goals providing separation on the score board’s final tally…the Arizona State Sun Devils come limping into Los Angeles Coliseum this week after two humiliating losses to two other ranked Pac-10 foes…they’ve had two weeks to rest up and prepare for USC and an upset win would turn their season around in a hurry…

NO. 4 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: The Maize and Blue raced to a 17-0 halftime lead over instate rival Michigan State…built it up to 31-7 after three quarters in route to a thoroughly convincing 31-13 final score…enough to push them up two slots from last week’s poll…the big loss of the weekend could be wide receiver extraordinaire Mario Manningham who racked up three grabs good for 75 yards, 2 scores, and a leg injury that now leaves him unfit for duty versus Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend. Chad Henne was a “quiet” 11 for 17, 140 yards and three scores…RB Mike Hart logged 122 yards on 22 carries…it was a very workmanlike victory with the Wolverine defense continuing to stand strong against the rush (net 73 yards by the Spartans)…This week’s road clash with Penn State will be an incredible test of Michigan’s willpower…the Nittany Lions are always tough at home and they are revenge minded from their only loss last year–an improbable last-second thriller the Wolverines managed to pull off. Losing Manningham for this weekend’s game will do one of two things to the Wolverines…psyche them up, or psyche them out…

NO. 5 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS: That old expression “rules are meant to be broken” doesn’t apply to football … not when you’ve got a team of zebras standing watch with flags at the ready, as West Virginia’s fifth-ranked team found out Saturday in Starkville, MS … actually, coach Rich Rodriguez could have taken it as a plus that his team was penalized 134 yards for 11 different infractions and still beat Mississippi State 42-14, but he didn’t see it that way … “We had some guys who played outstanding,” he said, “and other guys who just don’t get it” … as usual, Steve Slaton, Pat White and Owen Schmitt got it — the football, that is … amidst the flurry of flags (including roughing the passer ands roughing the punter penalties), the three-headed monster that is the Mountaineer offense chugged along as usual … Slaton was particularly effective, rushing for 185 yards and a touchdown and reeling off nine runs of 10 yards or more … White was 6 of 10 passing for 92 yards and ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns, fullback Schmitt scored twice .. West Virginia now hosts Syracuse and travels to Connecticut before its pivotal meeting with Louisville on Nov. 2.

NO. 6 TEXAS LONGHORNS: Obviously, the balance of power has tipped a bit in the Big 12, as Texas won its Red River confrontation with Oklahoma for the second straight year, 28-10 … this game was won upfront, with All-America candidates Lyle Sendlein (C), Kasey Studdard (G) and Justin Blalock (T) opening holes for Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young and keeping Rufus Alexander and friends away from redshirt freshman Colt McCoy … McCoy seems to be progressing nicely, and one wonders how a Texas-Ohio State game might play out now … the game was a coming out party for Texas DB Aaron Ross, starting only his third game … Ross had eight tackles, two interceptions, and returned a fumbled lateral by Adrian Peterson for a touchdown…credit Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, as well, for making adjustments that held Peterson to 38 yards in the second half … now, the Longhorns have to guard against complacency — after hosting surprising Baylor this week, they go to Nebraska and Texas Tech the following two Saturdays.

NO. 7 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS: Bobby Petrino’s team had a couple of scares during a 44-17 Friday night rout of Middle Tennessee, but both were fleeting … the Cardinals fell behind 10-3 on an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown from MTSU’s Damon Nickson and a Colby Smith field goal, but Hunter Cantwell threw two touchdown passes to 6’6″ Mario Urrutia, the second a back-breaking 25-yarder with just two seconds left in the first half … the other scare for Louisville, which already has starting QB Brian Brohm out with a hand injury, came when Cantwell was hit in the first quarter and came up favoring his knee … “My knee bent really weird, and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is not good,”‘ Cantwell said. “It was sore for a little bit, but I got back up on it and it was fine” … Brohm has resumed throwing in practice, and might be ready for the pivotal West Virginia game, if not before…meanwhile, the Cardinals have Cincinnati and Syracuse in between.

NO. 8 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS: Poor Tennessee. Its offensive line was supposedly banged up, its top running back was coming off an injury, and the Volunteers had to travel to Georgia last Saturday to face the top scoring defense in America…well, you can hold the pity party… with walking (and blocking) wounded O-linemen Arron Sears and Anthony Parker leading the way, the Tennessee forward wall guarded QB Erik Ainge like the Secret Service, dominated the line of scrimmage, and deserved a collective game ball in a 51-33 victory … even more impressive was the fact that Tennessee spotted the home team a 24-3 lead … Ainge threw for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns, RB Arian Foster scored three touchdowns — one for each game he had missed with an injury — and the Tennessee defense snapped up four turnovers … the Vols can’t celebrate for long, though, because the next four games are crucial — at home against Alabama, to South Carolina, home against LSU, and then on the road to suddenly resurgent Arkansas … still, with only 17 seniors on his roster, Volunteer coach Philip Fulmer should manage to keep his critics at bay for the foreseeable future.

NO. 9 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH: We are still asking ourselves why the pollsters would give Notre Dame a three-slot lift after a lackluster 31-10 home game win over the hapless 0-6 Stanford Cardinal? There are more worthy teams below the Irish in the poll and time should bear this out…the Golden Domers get two weeks off to prepare for the UCLA Bruins who will be without the services of their starting QB for the next six weeks thanks to an MCL tear…we doubt UCLA will be able to bring their “A” game to South Bend…but look out for a very tough Navy team on the road the week after…as we’ve said before, the Notre Dame schedule is a virtual cakewalk until they play USC, but a land mine or two on that yellow brick road to L.A., thanks to the armed forces football programs (Air Force on the road, Nov 11) just might derail any more delusions of the Irish fighting their way back into the national championship scene this season.

NO. 10 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: Cal’s mercurial rise from #16 to the Top Ten following their impressive dismantling of the Oregon Ducks just goes to prove that an early loss in the season to a ranked team will usually not ruin your national title hopes…redshirt soph QB Nate Longshore continues to mature and produce (14-26, 189 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, and one rushing TD)…his vast array of weaponry forces opponents to pick their poison…DeSean Jackson (2 grabs, 77 yards, 1 TD)…Justin Forsett (27 rushes, 163 yards, 1 TD, 6.1 ypc)…Marshawn Lynch (7 carries, 50 yards, 7.1 ypc)…most impressive stats in the big Quack Crasher? Cal’s defense picked off Dennis Dixon three times while also managing to hold the remarkable Jonathan Stewart to 25 yards on 18 carries–a career low 1.4 yards per carry average…the Bears are flying high again, but there’s an early Halloween fright night planned for them up in Pullman this weekend…just ask USC.

NO. 11 AUBURN TIGERS: How do you counter a defense that is small, super quick and boasts one of the best secondaries in the country? You run the ball, and that’s precisely what Arkansas did in handing the Plainsmen a 27-10 setback–at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, no less–on Saturday … using tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones as blunt instruments, the Razorbacks made 36 of their final 38 play calls running plays … meanwhile, the Arkansas defense swarmed around star Auburn tailback Kenny Irons, limiting him to 75 rushing yards on 15 carries (23 of that on one run) … it also helps with Auburn if you take the lead, thus forcing QB Brandon Cox to throw … knowing that, the Arkansas DL eventually shifted its attention from Irons to Cox and sacked the Auburn QB five times … its national championship hopes perhaps fatally wounded, Tommy Tuberville’s team now has to go back to the drawing board to correct some of the flaws that the Hogs exposed … and that has to happen quickly, because Florida comes to town this week.

NO. 12 CLEMSON TIGERS: You remember the limerick: “There once was a lady from Niger, who smiled as she rode on a tiger; they came back from the ride with the lady inside, and the smile on the face of the tiger” … so it was with Wake Forest on Saturday … even as late as the third quarter, it looked as if the then-undefeated Demon Deacons were going to hand Clemson a third straight loss at Groves Stadium, as Wake took a 17-3 lead on a Sam Swank field goal … earlier, they had burned the Tigers on a beautiful trick play, WR Nate Morton (a former quarterback) pulling up short on an apparent reverse and hitting QB Riley Skinner with a touchdown pass … but Clemson DE Gaines Adams jarred the football loose on another Wake field goal attempt, this one muffed, and galloped 66 yards to the distant end zone…then Will Proctor, who did not have a good game, hit Aaron Kelly with a 30-yard touchdown pass, true freshman RB C.J. Spinner squirted through a seam like a watermelon seed being spit out and raced 72 yards for another score, and the smile was on the faces of the Tigers … plusses for Clemson, which has the chance to take center stage in a jumbled and confused ACC, were the emergence of Stiller and a defense that held Wake 31 yards rushing … a concern was the play of Proctor, who misfired badly on some key first-half passes and admitted: “That’s probably the worst game I’ve played since Pop Warner” … the Tigers will gnaw on hapless Temple this Saturday, then host Georgia Tech next week.

NO. 13 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS: At one point on Saturday, with Clemson two touchdowns in arrears of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech trailing Maryland, the question had to be asked: “Uh, does anyone want to win the ACC title?” It turns out Georgia Tech does … after fourth quarter touchdowns by Reggie Ball and Tashard Choice gave the Yellow Jackets a 27-23 lead, a long pass play took the Terps to the GA Tech seven yard line with a minute left … 6-7, 250-pound Yellow Jackets’ sophomore Michael Johnson then forced an intentional grounding call on Maryland QB Sam Hollenbach, followed by a sack of Hollenbach on fourth down to end the game … Georgia Tech, now 5-1, will take a bye week before traveling to Clemson on Oct. 21, a game that could be the signature regular-season match-up in the league this year … for Tech, Saturday’s comeback had to be a confidence-builder … Choice, a transfer from Oklahoma, continues to improve — he had 135 rushing yards Saturday …. that certainly beats watching Adrian Peterson from the bench.

NO. 14 LSU TIGERS: Is Florida really a better football team than LSU? Maybe, but it wasn’t as if the Gators dominated Les Miles’ team last Saturday…the Tigers gave Florida a safety when Early Doucet fumbled the second half kickoff, another Gator score was set up when Jessie Daniels fumbled a punt, and the normally reliable JaMarcus Russell coughed up the football on the Florida two-yard line when the ball was apparently snapped to him on an unexpected count … by getting behind early, the Tigers were unable to use their running game, and Russell was intercepted three times by a quick and opportunistic Florida secondary … still, LSU outgained Florida in total yardage, 318-288 and in passing, 228-191, and the Gators had only a narrow lead in rushing, 97-90, despite the fact that the visitors hardly ran the ball in the second half … turnovers were the difference — and with two losses, LSU will have to take a gut check to get back in the SEC West race … the Tigers still have Tennessee and Arkansas on their schedule.

NO. 15 IOWA HAWKEYES: Kirk Ferentz managed to guide his Hawkeyes safely away from post-game depression following the Ohio State loss, soundly whipping the Purdue Boilermakers 47-17…Drew Tate was a cool 17 for 23, 253 yards and 2 scores…RB Damian Sims got the call and delivered on the ground with 155 yards and 2 scores off 20 carries…Adam Shada set an Iowa record by returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown…Iowa lost three of four fumbles, but Purdue couldn’t capitalize…next up: a road game against the Indiana Hoosiers…IU is vastly improved from last season and should put up a bit of a struggle…the Hawkeyes will need to guard against looking beyond this week toward their huge game at Michigan on Oct 21.

NO. 16 GEORGIA BULLDOGS: So much for that feared Georgia defense, which was leading the nation in points allowed … with a seismic explosion in the second half, the Tennessee Volunteers sent the second coming of the Junkyard Dogs to, well, the junkyard, 51-33 … Tennessee simply had too many weapons, even Between the Hedges, and Georgia’s quarterback problems were once again laid bare … “When you have three quarterbacks,” the saying goes, “you really don’t have any” … the beloved Joe Tereshinski tried valiantly, but his first-half stats were inflated by at least three circus catches by his receivers of less than crisp passes … Georgia took a 24-10 lead at halftime and pulled off two long scoring returns (Mikey Henderson 86 yards with a punt, Thomas Brown 99 with a kickoff), but couldn’t overcome four turnovers … defensive ends Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses, considered the best duo in the country, rarely got close enough to UT QB Erik Ainge to bother him … Ainge was sacked only once, on a safety blitz by Tra Battle that someone forgot to pick up … the Bulldogs also had problems stopping the run, allowing Arian Foster to score three times…Georgia has two very winnable games (Vanderbilt and Mississippi State) in which to work out the kinks before it has to play Florida …. Is Tennessee really that much better? Probably not, but for a team that supposedly lives or dies with its defense, those 51 Volunteer points had to be ominous.

NO. 17 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS: “We want people to respect us,” said Arkansas TB Darren McFadden prior to Saturday’s game with Auburn … mission accomplished: McFadden rushed for 144 yards (including a 63-yard touchdown) and fellow tailback Felix Jones added 104 and another score as the Razorbacks upset Auburn, 27-10 … it was the first victory by an unranked team over a Top 10 team this season, and put Arkansas in the hunt for a berth in the SEC championship game … the Hogs used the run almost exclusively in the second half, which not only hogged big chunks of clock, but kept the exposure to freshman QB Mitch Mustain to a minimum … Mustain did just enough to keep the Tigers honest, hitting 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Marcus Monk … meanwhile, defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Keith Jackson led a ferocious rush that sacked Auburn QB Brandon Cox five times … the rest of the schedule is favorable to Houston Nutt’s team, which rewards itself with a cupcake (Southeastern Missouri State) this Saturday and has both Tennessee and LSU at home…the trap game might be a Nov. 4 trip to South Carolina.

NO. 18 OREGON DUCKS: The Ducks met their match in Berkeley last weekend and dropped seven spots in the AP poll following Cal’s convincing 45-24 victory. That’s what happens when you go on the road, fail to establish any semblance of a running game, and end up minus three in turnover margin against a quick-strike opportunistic offense. Oregon will need to regroup and develop a solid game plan for the UCLA Bruins this week…the Uclans are 4-1, hungry for Pac-10 respect, and injured at the most visible position on the field…the Ducks cannot afford to get caught up in looking beyond this game to their showdown with USC on the road next week because the Bruins are a lot more talented than they are being given credit for this season…and a loss against UCLA means settling for a lesser bowl game in December.

NO. 19 MISSOURI TIGERS: A funny thing happened on the way to Missouri’s first loss in the Big 12 on Saturday — it didn’t happen … after the No. 23 Tigers had taken a 24-0 lead on No. 25 Texas Tech, causing Red Raider coach Mike Leach to briefly bench QB Graham Harrell … Harrell returned (presumably after being chewed on by an angry Leach) to throw two quick touchdown passes at the end of the first half and another in the third quarter … stopping Tech’s wide-open offense when it gains momentum is like preventing a 747 from taking off, and thousands of Missouri fans were no doubt muttering, “Here we go again” … somehow, though, the feisty Tiger defense regrouped, resumed its pressure on Harrell, and won going away, 38-21…freshman QB Chase Daniel continued to play well, defensive ends Brian Smith and Xzavier Jackson are emerging as one of the top pass rushing combos in the Big 12, and Mizzou is now 6-0 … “We want people to question why Missouri is ranked that high,” said Jackson afterward. “Why? Why?”…after Saturday, they can just ask Graham Harrell, who was harassed into five turnovers…the bad news for Gary Pinkel’s team is the remaining schedule–at Texas A&M this week, then Oklahoma, then at Nebraska.

NO. 20 BOISE STATE BRONCOS: Two teams in the Top 25 won their games and remained locked into their previous poll position…yes, Boise State was one of them, Rutgers the other…that tells you the level of respect the pollsters have for these programs and the weak schedules they have played so far this year. Rutgers’ schedule will become more difficult with two Top Ten ranked teams coming up…the Broncos, on the other hand, face a schedule that only becomes weaker. Look for BSU to run up the score like they did last week versus the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 55-14…that’s their only hope of drawing some pollster attention away from the traditional powerhouse programs. We think BSU is right about where they should be…it’s difficult to envision them moving beyond a #14 slot before the end of the regular season…

NO. 21 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Memo to the rest of the Big 12–don’t let Nebraska get an early lead … Iowa State allowed itself to fall behind 21-7 on Saturday, and Bill Callahan’s team simply used its big offensive line and I-backs Cody Glenn and Brandon Jackson as a combine, rolling up and down the field as Brett Meyer and his Cyclone offensive teammates sat on their hands (for the game, the Cornhuskers kept the football for 37 minutes) … it was almost a day off for Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, who threw only 21 passes … Taylor still became the fourth Nebraska QB to go over 4,000 yards for his career … amazingly, the 100-yard games by Glenn and Jackson were the first by a Nebraska back in a Big 12 game since 2004 … now 5-1, Nebraska travels to Kansas State this Saturday before hosting Texas on Oct. 21.

NO. 22 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES: The M.O. for Frank Beamer’s Hokies is well-known — strike quickly, often with special teams touchdowns, grab an early lead and then go after the other team’s quarterback with a vengeance…after a 38-27 loss to Georgia Tech two weeks ago, the Hokies now know how the other guys feel…the Yellow Jackets blocked a punt, scored on a fumble return and took a 21-0 first-quarter lead that basically took Brandon Ore and the running game out of Beamer’s arsenal … rookie QB starter Sean Glennon did throw for 339 yards, but Tech was never able to catch up…after a bye week, 4-1 Tech now travels to 4-1 Boston College to continue a spirited rivalry that was transplanted to the ACC from the Big East…V. Tech now trails Georgia Tech by a game in the relatively weak Coastal Division of the ACC and can’t afford another loss … plus, a victory in Chestnut Hill would be Beamer’s 400th … he currently ranks third among active Division 1 coaches…Tech is 12-1 in Thursday night TV games.

NO. 23 OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Oklahoma’s 28-10 loss to Texas was eerily similar to the simultaneous LSU-Florida game to the east … the Sooners outgained the Longhorns 333-232 in total yards, including a 209-108 edge in passing … they also converted 9 of 16 first downs to 3 of 10 for the winners…the killer, as with LSU, was turnovers — five, including a weird play late in the game in which Adrian Peterson thought he had dropped a pass, only to have Aaron Ross scoop up what turned out to be a fumbled lateral and score the last touchdown…”I was sitting there like, ‘What the, you know, is going on?'” Peterson sad later … Oklahoma fans were probably asking themselves the same question … as for Peterson, who gained 109 tough yards? … “Give him the Heisman,” said Texas linebacker Robert Killebrew. “He deserves it” … Bob Stoops’ team plays its next two games at home, Iowa State and Colorado, before traveling to Missouri.

NO. 24 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS: When the unbeaten Scarlet Knights (5-0) travel to Navy (5-1) this Saturday, expect a quick game…both teams run the ball very effectively, and both have quarterbacks who have been erratic in the passing game, to say the least … Rutgers’ Mike Teel has two touchdown passes against six interceptions, while Brian Hampton of the Middies–primarily a runner–has actually produced negative passer ratings twice this season…Ray Rice has put up nice numbers for the Scarlet Knights so far — 806 yards, 11 TD’s…Hampton has rushed for 10 Navy touchdowns…if one of these teams gets a big early lead and puts the pressure on the opposing quarterback to throw, it could be over early…there is a video screen in Times Square touting Brian Leonard of Rutgers for the Heisman, but so far the senior fullback hasn’t gotten as many touches as in the past…that could change against a swarming Navy defense…the Middies would love to be ranked, and they probably will be if they win on Saturday.

NO. 25 WISCONSIN BADGERS: Wisconsin enters the AP poll for the first time this season following their 41-9 win over the Northwestern Wildcats…the Badgers really lucked out with their Big Ten schedule this year (no Ohio State game) and overall, aside from a road game at Iowa on Nov 11, we can see this team easily reaching 10-2…worst case scenario would be 9-3, if they lose at home to Penn State. This is your typical Wisconsin team…not a lot of flash and dash…they seek to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball…their offensive line is nasty and wears down opponents…there always seems to be another NFL-bound ball carrier popping up, and this year the spotlights are shining on true freshman P.J. Hill, Jr., a 5’11”, 242 pound bruiser (who reminds you of Ron Dayne)…he rushed 35 times last week for 249 yards and a score. Against Michigan a few weeks ago, the versatile frosh back had 54 yards rushing and 64 yards receiving…The Badgers’ senior QB, John Stocco, is experienced and poised in the pocket and presents a dangerous alternative to the running game.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. The Buckeyes went on the road to East Lansing last weekend and dispatched a battered and bruised Spartan squad with 38-7 efficiency. It was the type of performance you expect to see from the number one team in the nation, but college football, as we well know, can provide its share of surprises…not, with this Ohio State team…at least, not until Michigan comes to town on Nov. 18, and then, a win by either team will not be a surprise. They are both that hungry and that good this year…Troy Smith got a boost in his Heisman hopes when NIU’s Garrett Wolfe was held to 25 yards rushing…Smith, meanwhile, just keeps plugging along. Against Michigan State, he turned in a workmanlike performance (15-22, 234 yards, 2 TDs) but what the stats don’t show is how effective he is in using all the weapons at his disposal. Although he isn’t running the veer option, his ability to cut loose and run is always a threat to the defense…one can’t help but be reminded of the great Ohio State quarterback, Cornelius Greene, who was largely overshadowed in his day by Archie Griffin. The Buckeyes entertain an improved Indiana Hoosiers team this weekend. Indiana managed to knock the Iowa Hawkeyes out of the AP poll last weekend with a 31-28 home victory.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. Forget how close the score was against the Penn State Nittany Lions…if you can go into JoePa’s House when his troops have bloodthirsty revenge on their minds and emerge victorious, you are the real deal. It doesn’t get any easier this week with an Iowa Hawkeyes team coming to Ann Arbor…this is a Hawkeyes team that has nothing better to do than to lay it all on the table. Iowa is hurting something awful after choking on the road against Indiana…their game this week against the Wolverines is for self-respect and a shot at a second tier bowl game versus a complete failure in their season’s goals and a third-rate ho-hum bowl invite…but, wait, this is Michigan’s space…who wants to hear about the Hawkeyes? The fact is, Iowa is still dangerous, and this game is not a pushover for the Wolverines. This game represents the last big hurdle Lloyd Carr’s team has to face before they hit a 3-game tune-up stretch (Northwestern, Ball State, Indiana) leading up to the showdown with Ohio State. Michigan fans should be rejoicing this week’s game is in the Big House because the Wolverines traditionally struggle against Iowa on the road.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS. The Trojans dodged another bullet for the third week in a row of conference clashes. There are a couple things to be learned from USC’s struggles the past few weeks. 1) The Pac-10 is stronger across the board than last year. 2) USC is weaker across the board (thanks to a plethora of key injuries) than last year. Washington State, Washington, and Arizona State can give any team in the country a run for their money on any given Saturday…and, when you’re playing against the conference bully, you typically bring your A game…And that’s exactly why this week’s road trip to Corvallis is not going to be as easy as it might look on the schedule. The Beavers went to Seattle last weekend, knocked the sensational Husky QB, Isaiah Stanback, out for the season and escaped with an impressive win. They will be fired up when the Boys from Troy come to town this Saturday. It just might be a nail-biter. The Trojan offense will need to be clicking on all cylinders if they hope to avoid an upset.

NO. 4 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. The talk has already started — could West Virginia be this year’s Auburn, left out of the BCS title game despite an undefeated record? Probably not—not if Rich Rodriguez’s Mountaineers keep winning like they did Saturday, a 47-14 romp over Syracuse…sure, West Virginia currently stands fifth in the BCS standings behind Ohio State, Southern Cal, Michigan and Auburn, but either Ohio State or Michigan has to lose (they play each other), Southern Cal still has Cal, Oregon and Notre Dame to face, and West Virginia can alleviate much of its strength-of-schedule problems by beating No. 7 Louisville in their upcoming Big East throwdown…the added BCS bowl game also helps, of course, and other factors in the Mountaineers’ favor include a resounding victory over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl and the fact that with White, Steve Slaton and Darius Reynaud, they’re just so much fun to watch…of course, getting to the Big One won’t be easy…the Mountaineers have to play at Louisville, which now has QB Brian Brohm back, and face a trap game at Pitt two weeks after that before finishing at home against Rutgers…still, the Mountaineers are looking more and more like those old Nebraska teams that relied on speed and power instead of finesse and thus hardly ever had a bad game…this week, Rodriguez’ squad travels to Connecticut, which shouldn’t be a problem…Question: What is it about WVU fans that seems to inspire opposing quarterbacks to give them the old one-finger salute? Last year it was Marcus Vick of Virginia Tech; this year, Perry Patterson of Syracuse.

NO. 5 TEXAS LONGHORNS. Redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy was firing on all cylinders against Baylor Saturday — all six of them…McCoy threw a UT record six touchdowns passes as Texas exposed Baylor as just another Big 12 wannabe, shrugging off an early 10-0 deficit to bury the Bears, 63-31…actually, it could be argued that Baylor played better than last year, when it lost to Texas 62-0…the Longhorns not only won big, but they embarrassed star Baylor cornerback C.J. Wilson, who had loudly predicted an “I-35 surprise” (i.e., Baylor upset)…Wilson missed a tackle on a 62-yard TD pass to Billy Pittman, fell down on another long scoring connection to Limas Sweed, and was outjumped in the end zone by Texas TE Jermichael Finley…nevertheless, Baylor scored on its first play from scrimmage, a 67-yard bomb from Shawn Bell to Trent Shelton…Ryan Havens then added a field goal on the next possession as the Bears confused McCoy for the first three series with a three-man rush before adjustments were made…Texas travels to No. 17 Nebraska this Saturday.

NO. 6 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. The Cardinals’ 23-17 victory over Cincinnati had to be a little worrisome to coach Bobby Petrino on a couple of counts…for one thing, the Cardinals had trouble stopping UC’s running game, which conjures up disturbing images of West Virginia’s Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt…moreover, they had trouble mustering up a ground attack of their own, putting a lot of pressure on an admittedly rusty Brian Brohm, back at quarterback after missing several weeks with a thumb injury…Brohm completed 20 of 35 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown, but some of the ones he didn’t complete were uncharacteristically off-target for the normally deadly accurate Louisville QB…”I made those throws all week in practice,” Brohm said, “and I should be able to make them in a game”… the Bearcats drove down to the Louisville 22 in the dying moments of the game before Bearcat QB Dustin Grutza threw four straight incompletions in the end zone.

NO. 7 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. The next four weeks will decide if the Vols are a national championship contender or just a feel-good comeback story…presumably refreshed by an open date (although coach Philip Fulmer might have preferred to keep the momentum from the come-from-behind victory over Georgia on Oct. 7 going) UT now hosts Alabama, travels to South Carolina, hosts LSU and travels to Arkansas…with Heisman Trophy contenders falling by the wayside, a continued strong team performance might at least get Vol QB Erik Ainge (1,657 passing yards, 14 TDs, a 69 percent completion percentage) an invitation to New York…moreover, Tennessee’s three-headed running back (LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster) has gained 749 yards and scored eight touchdowns…and if the prolific pass-catching duo of Robert Meacham and Jayson Swain wasn’t intimidating enough, No. 3 receiver Bret Smith has 20 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns…the question mark is the defense, which lost key starters Justin Harrell (DR) and Inky Johnson (CB) early in the season.

NO. 8 AUBURN TIGERS. How often do you beat the No. 2 team in the country without scoring an offensive touchdown? Not very often, but that’s what Auburn did to Florida on Saturday, topping the Gators 27-17 in a quintessential “closer than the score indicates” SEC war…Florida’s defense, led by Brandon Siler, Jarvis Moss and Marcus Thomas, pretty much throttled Tiger stars Brandon Cox and Kenny Irons, but turnovers and special teams play kept Auburn hanging around until Tre Smith scored on a blocked punt and Patrick Lee dashed 20 yards to the end zone with a fumbled lateral on the last play of the game … Auburn also produced a safety on a rare call (holding on a Florida lineman in the end zone) and got four field goals from John Vaughan …during the first half, though, Florida’s quirky offense made the Tiger defenders look like cardboard cutouts, racking up 13 first downs on the first 18 offensive plays…still, teams that survive the grueling SEC season are teams that adjust, and that’s what Tommy Tuberville’s squad did…nor did it hurt that starting LB Trey Blackmon returned after a six-week suspension…two of Auburn’s last five games — Tulane and Arkansas State — are probably breathers, which leaves a trip to Ole Miss, a home game with Georgia and the traditional closer with up-and-down Alabama…running the table is not out of the question, which could lead to an Auburn-Florida rematch in the SEC title game.

NO. 9 FLORIDA GATORS. If nothing else, you had to give Florida coach Urban Meyer and QB Chris Leak points for class…one of the key plays in a 27-17 loss to Auburn was a questionable fumble call on Leak (was his arm going forward, or not?) deep in Tiger territory with the score 18-17…”Obviously, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field,” Meyer said. “We have to live with it and get better”… it wasn’t a good game for Leak, who is no longer being mentioned in Heisman chatter…besides the fumble, he fed a fourth-quarter interception to Eric Brock by throwing into obvious coverage when pressured by Auburn’s Quentin Groves, who had three sacks…it could be that teams are getting wise to a strange Gator offense in which the top rushers last Saturday were wide receivers Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell and backup QB Tim Tebow …starting tailback DeShawn Wynn did return from an injury, though, and the Gator defense still looked like one of the top three or four in the country…the Gators now have a bye week to lick their wounds (do alligators lick wounds?) before the annual cocktail party/football game with Georgia…after that comes Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Western Carolina and Florida State, all very winnable…and Florida still has a two-game lead over fading Georgia in the SEC’s East division.

NO. 10 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. Notre Dame had the week off to rest up and prepare for the UCLA Bruins and dropped one spot in the AP poll…UCLA looked to be a good test at the beginning of the season, but the Bruins are banged up and limping into this match-up…most notably, UCLA will be without their starting quarterback Ben Olson. They have dropped two Pac-10 games already, so their hopes for a Pac-10 title have already been dashed with five conference games still remaining. What type of challenge can the Fighting Irish expect from the Bruins? Let’s put it this way…if UCLA can shut down the N.D. offense early, the Bruins can make a game of it. They have a lot of fight in them, despite their injuries, and aside from the disastrous first quarter at Oregon last weekend wherein they gave up 20 points, the Bruins made a game of it. Outside of the season ending game at USC, this is really the last chance for Brady Quinn to impress the Heisman voters…Notre Dame has a string of games coming up versus the service academies and a pitiful North Carolina team (currently 1-5).

NO. 11 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Cal won their first game in Pullman, Washington since 1979 and although it wasn’t pretty (21-3) the fact the Bears’ defense held Wazzu to three points in their own crib is astounding. On top of that, Washington rides into Berkeley this weekend without the services of clutch senior QB Isaiah Stanback…that should have a crippling effect on the Huskies’ offensive attack. Everything is starting to come together nicely for the Golden Bears with their schedule…it should be smooth sailing between now and the showdown with USC on Nov. 18…that game should be for all the marbles in the Pac-10. Right now, Cal is showing up in the #10 slot for the BCS and Jeff Tedford is imposing a no-comment policy about the Bears chances…you’ll recall the debacle of two years ago when a higher ranked Cal team was one-upped by Mack Brown’s pleas for Texas to gain a BCS berth.

NO. 12 CLEMSON TIGERS. Maybe Tommy Bowden’s team has the wrong cat for a mascot…with Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller on the squad, they could be the Cheetahs instead of the Tigers…both true freshmen and products of Florida, where speed isn’t just found at Daytona, Ford and Spiller are two of the fastest players in the country…Ford has been clocked at 4.12 in the 40 and 10.3 in the 100 meters, and Spiller is just a tick behind with a 10.4 100 meter time…in last Saturday 63-9 destruction of Temple, Spiller ran for a pair of touchdowns and Ford contributed a 55-yard scoring reception from Will Proctor and a 49-yard kickoff return…two weeks ago, Spiller broke Wake Forest’s back with a 72-yard touchdown run…”He’s got tailback running skills and wide receiver hands,” said Bowden of Spiller, who was also recruited heavily by Southern Cal…Ford, meanwhile, has helped fill in for the injured Chansi Stuckey at wide receiver…”Chansi Stuckey might be the hardest-working practice player we have,” Bowden said, “but Ford is right behind him”…Clemson hosts Georgia Tech in a key ACC matchup on Saturday…Tiger DB Ray Ray McElrathbey was recently named “Person of the Week” by the ABC Nightly News…he took custody of his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, when their mother developed a crack cocaine habit.

NO. 13 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. As the teams behind them in the ACC’s Coastal Division continue to pile up like a rush-hour fender-bender, the Yellow Jackets have opened up a two-game lead…that gives Tech a loss to burn — a good thing, since Chan Gailey’s team travels to No. 12 Clemson this Saturday amidst the hoopla of ESPN’s Game Day … the Jackets haven’t been winning convincingly, but they’ve been winning, thanks in large part to the continued improvement of QB Reggie Ball and the intimidation factor of tight-end-sized (6-5, 235) wideout Calvin (Can Receivers Win the Heisman?) Johnson … Tashard Choice has proven a serviceable running back, Ball has cut down on his interceptions, and the Jacket defense has done what it’s had to do…Tech easily handled Open Date last week.

NO. 14 LSU TIGERS. It didn’t take watching game films for Kentucky coach Rich Brooks to identify the core problem in Saturday’s 49-0 loss in Baton Rouge…”We were not covering tightly, and we had no pass rush,” he said…this, of course, made the outmanned Wildcats fast food for a bigger cat named JaMarcus Russell, who hit 15 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns to Dwayne Bowe…the game clearly demonstrated two recurring points: 1. LSU is a very good team; 2. Kentucky really doesn’t belong in the SEC…Les Miles’ squad is unbeaten down on the bayou, outscoring its five imported opponents 236-30…unfortunately, the Tigers’ toughest four games–Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas–are all on the road…whomever made up that schedule should be fed to the LSU mascot.

NO. 15 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. Maybe Mitch Mustain isn’t ready, after all …the word was that the celebrated freshman from Springdale just needed a little time to ease his way into the rugged SEC schedule, but then Mustain was just 5 of 13 passing against outgunned Southeast Missouri State last weekend…it didn’t really matter, of course, as running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Michael Smith (don’t you love a backfield of Smith and Jones?) and a fired-up Razorback defense had their way with the Redhawks, but when coach Houston Nutt finally inserted former starter Casey Dick, he went 8 of 9 with two touchdowns …h-m-m-m: quarterback controversy? Just give the ball to McFadden and Jones…despite possessing one of the best names in college football today (wide receiver Oge Oge) SMSU was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time…Arkansas has a good shot at winning the West division, but still has to play South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU…nor can Nutt’s Razorbacks afford to look past neighborhood rival Ole Miss this weekend.

NO. 16 OREGON DUCKS. Under normal circumstances, last week’s 30-20 win over UCLA would have been considered impressive. In fact, it was a rather sloppy game for the Ducks who gave up two turnovers and allowed the Bruins to claw their way back into the game after amassing a 20-3 first quarter lead. Dennis Dixon was 10-17, 144 yards, 2 TDs as a passer, and he also gained 69 yards on 11 carries. Jonathan Stewart banged out 121 yards on 20 carries to pace the rushing attack. The Ducks venture into Pullman this weekend and could very well run into a buzzsaw…the Cougars are not a happy bunch right now and they are dangerous on their home turf.

NO. 17 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS. Maybe this is a new era for Bill Callahan’s team…on Saturday, Nebraska won in Manhattan, KS, for the first time since 1996, a 21-3 victory over Kansas State…were it not for the Huskers’ early-season euthanasia of a kennel of dog opponents, one could make a strong argument for the premise that Callahan’s team is vastly under-ranked…after all, Nebraska’s only loss was to No. 3 Southern Cal, 28-10…that will all sort itself out this Saturday, however, when Nebraska hosts No. 5 Texas…the first touchdown against the Wildcats was a pass from Jake Wesch to Hunter Teafatiller…you’re asking: “Who?”…OK, Wesch is the holder on field goals and a former high school quarterback, Teafatiller is a backup tight end, and the play was a fake field goal…later in the first half, regular QB Zac Taylor scooted 24 yards on a fourth-down bootleg to set up his own short TD pass to Josh Mueller, and Nebraska had all the points it needed…meanwhile, the Cornhuskers’ Blackshirt defense swarmed all over K-State running back Leon Patton like fire ants, holding him to 12 yards in 13 carries…Wildcat QB Josh Freeman, like Patton a freshman, threw for 272 yards but was picked off twice…wonder if Callahan has any trick plays up his sleeve for Texas?

NO. 18 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. The Broncos moved up two ticks on the poll with their 40-28 win over New Mexico State Aggies. The Aggies piled up 526 net yards passing on Boise State, exposing the Broncos’ Achilles heel. There really is only one test left on the BSU schedule…that’s a season-ending road game at Nevada. Ian Johnson rushed for 192 yards and four first-half touchdowns for Boise. Next up, the ever dangerous (not) Idaho Vandals, a WAC team that gave up 121 points to their three non-conference opponents earlier this year. Look for the Broncos to keep piling on the scoreboard in an effort to impress pollsters that they are in a league of their own out west. In reality, they are, because the WAC is without a doubt, the weakest D1-A conference, save the Sun Belt.

NO. 19 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. So far this season, both Rutgers and Pitt have managed to avoid playing anyone any good…that will change on Saturday, when they face each other in Pittsburgh…the last time Rutgers started out 6-0, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were campaigning for the presidency (1976)…last week, the Knights got a huge break when Navy QB Brian Hampton–the engine of the Middies’ potent wishbone offense–went out with a knee injury, thus leaving Navy dead in the water…one encouraging note was that Rutgers QB Mike Teel, who has been mostly an appendage to RB’s Ray Rice and Brian Leonard this season, threw three touchdown passes in the 34-0 victory…the Rutgers defense, which has been tough all season, will have to contend with Pitt QB Tyler Palko (second in the nation in passing efficiency) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (shouldn’t he be playing for the North Carolina State Wolfpack?) a tiny tailback who has morphed into Garrett Wolfe the last two weeks.

NO. 20 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. The injury on Saturday to Heisman contender Adrian Peterson sent a message–or should have–to running backs everywhere: Don’t dive into the end zone if it’s not necessary… Peterson did that as an exclamation point to his 53-yard touchdown run against Iowa State, broke his collarbone and will be out for at least the rest of the regular season…later, the week got even worse for Sooner coach Bob Stoops–leading tackler and team captain Rufus Alexander was arrested after an early Monday morning disagreement with police (doesn’t anyone have curfews any more?) and starting wide receiver/return man Reggie Smith is on crutches…ordinarily, the good news would be that OU gets Colorado this week, but the Buffaloes upset Texas Tech on Saturday and might be coming out of their funk…Allen Patrick, who has all of 62 yards rushing this season, will step in for Peterson.

NO. 21 WISCONSIN BADGERS. If you haven’t heard of P.J. Hill, Jr. by now, you will. The 5’11”, 242 pound freshman running back ran for 164 yards on 25 carries, with two TDs last week against Minnesota, and he’s now the #2 rusher in the nation behind Garrett Wolfe, with a 144.4 per game average. The media have anointed Hill as the second coming of Ron Dayne because of his bulldozer-like blasts through the line of scrimmage. The Badgers are flying high right now and will take their show on the road to Purdue this weekend. If they are for real, and we have every reason to believe they are, as evidenced by their road game at Michigan earlier this year and subsequent demolitions of every other opponent they have faced, the Boilermakers should fall and Wisconsin should move up a slot or two in the polls.

NO. 22 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. A lot of college football fans would be hard-put to name anyone on the BC roster, but the Eagles just keep winning–last Saturday, a 22-3 throttling of Virginia Tech…earlier, Tom O’Brien’s team handed Clemson its only loss and beat a strong Brigham Young squad, both in double overtime…BC has a capable quarterback in Matt Ryan (who, almost anonymously, leads the ACC in several passing categories) a solid running back tandem in L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender and G Josh Beekman, a projected first-round NFL pick, but the real star has been a swarming, feisty defense led by Brian Toal, Jamie Silva and JoLonn Dunbar…of course, most of the media attention after the Tech game went to walk-on kicker Steve Aponavicius, a soccer guy who had never played football at any level, was pressed into action when former starter Ryan Ohlinger got into a bar fight (apparently sparked by taunts that he was a lousy kicker) and knocked home two field goals…BC is second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but still has to travel to Florida State and Wake Forest.

NO. 23 TEXAS A&M AGGIES. There was a big reason why A&M knocked Missouri from the unbeaten ranks last Saturday, and his name is Jorvorskie Lane…after A&M took its final lead, 25-19, on Michael Goodson’s two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the Aggies used the 270-pound Lane to play keep-away, bashing him repeatedly into the middle of the line as he devoured most of the fourth quarter as if it were a large pizza…the big (no, huge) sophomore finished with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown, while sophomore QB Stephen McGee completed 19 of 23 passes…it was the first home victory over a ranked team under coach Dennis Franchione, who currently occupies one of college football’s hottest seats…last year, the Aggies were bad when they were supposed to be good; this year, it seems to be the other way around…indeed, with games upcoming against Oklahoma State and Baylor, A&M could be 8-1 entering a season-ending minefield–Oklahoma, Nebraska, at Texas.

NO. 24 MISSOURI TIGERS. Welcome to reality, Chase Daniel…after leading the Missouri Tigers to a 6-0 record and a No. 19 ranking, the talented freshman quarterback saw his 2006 sand castle fall apart with a loss at Texas A&M…”Any time you lose, it’s frustrating,” Daniel said…how would he know? His high school team in Texas never lost, either…Saturday’s setback wasn’t Daniel’s fault, however–with the Tiger ground game a non-starter, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 190 yards…nor was it Daniel’s fault that WR Will Franklin showboated a bit on what would have been a long touchdown pass and had the ball punched out of his grasp by a fast-closing defender…no one could accuse Tiger coach Gary Pinkel of playing it too close to the vest, either, as he tried a fake field goal late in the fourth quarter that failed…now bloodied, Mizzou still has to play Oklahoma, Nebraska and arch-rival Kansas.

NO. 25 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. Deacon Blues, indeed. A loss to Clemson two weeks ago was supposed to have exposed the then-unbeaten Deacons as a fraud, but Jim Grobe’s team promptly rebounded with a 25-23 victory over North Carolina State…it’s not necessarily a good thing when your star player is a place kicker, but Sam Swank was money in the bank, connecting from 51 yards and 53 yards (twice) as Wake won at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh for the first time in 10 years… State drove deep into Deacon territory at the end of the game, but Josh Gattis made a clutch interception to preserve the victory…the Deacons should savor this one, because Boston College and Florida State loom on the horizon…then again, maybe the Deacs are for real, after all.

Fourth and inches …

►The shakeout among contenders and pretenders continued in full force with surprise upsets ruling the weekend…the Indiana Hoosiers stunned the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Vanderbilt Commodores upstaged the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time in twelve years…both Iowa and Georgia were jettisoned from the AP Top 25 poll, as was Virginia Tech after the Hokies dropped their second consecutive game, this time to ACC rival Boston College…they’ll all be fighting and clawing their way back into consideration for upper tier bowl game invites the rest of the season…Auburn’s defeat of the Florida Gators settled virtually nothing…both teams remained in the top 10 and are still in the hunt for a berth in the national title game.

►With the first BCS poll released on Sunday it should be apparent to fans that SOS (strength of schedule) matters and margin of victory does not…USC’s three close shave victories meant nothing to the BCS computers except that they were wins…conversely, Boise State’s avalanche-like scores over cupcake opponents registers faintly on the BCS Richter scale…

►If you happened to see the highlights of the Saturday Fight Night game pitting Miami and Florida International…do you really think the Hurricanes are being punished by suspending a handful of players for their BIG game against the Duke Blue Devils? What a joke…now, if this was basketball we were talking about, the loss of any one player versus Duke would be a stiff punishment. It’s hard to imagine that the University of Miami administration will allow Larry Coker to remain head coach beyond this year…this isn’t the first incident…remember when the Hurricanes stomped on the Louisville Cardinals logo at midfield and a fight almost broke out between the teams before that game? Two Miami players have issued public apologies…Soph Anthony Reddick for swinging his helmet as a weapon, and senior captain (captain?) Brandon Meriweather for stomping on FIU players’ legs with his cleats during the fracas…I wonder if Coker will allow Meriweather to remain a captain of the team after he has served his one-game suspension?

►The Sports Illustrated curse… Does it exist? Three weeks ago, Houston Cougars QB Kevin Kolb was highlighted as one of the top overlooked signal callers in the college ranks…since the article appeared, previously undefeated Houston has dropped 3 straight games to fall one game behind Tulsa in the C-USA West Divisional race and far-far away from consideration in the AP Top 25…statistically, the 6’3″, 225 Kolb has not been the problem…he’s gone 64-97, 722 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INT during the three losses…on the season he has 16 TD tosses against only 1 INT…Still, great stats mean virtually nothing without the wins…

►BYU QB coach, Brandon Doman, a former standout Cougars quarterback and a valuable recruiter for the Brigham Young program, said recently on Salt Lake’s 1280 AM The Zone that the Mountain West Conference’s lack of television exposure will eventually affect recruiting…as we’ve pointed out before, the nine MWC football programs have a total of 522 players on their rosters this season who hail from key recruiting states California, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Nevada…MWC fan boards are beginning to joke about the conference’s poorly launched “The mtn.” channel, with its tiny, intermountain footprint now being known as “The Pmpl.” (short for The Pimple)…How is it that the Big Ten Channel had a deal with DirecTV wrapped up a year before their launch next summer, while CSTV/Comcast cannot manage a satellite deal for “the mtn.” with a ready-to-go product? Quite simply, CSTV/Comcast has over-valued the sub fees for “the mtn.”…the Sat companies and many cable providers won’t budge at the current asking price.

►More problems with CSTV/Comcast and “the mtn.” In an effort to appease irate fans throughout the conference, CSTV began selling access to single games via an Internet Pay-Per-View offering…$14.95 advance price, $19.95 day of the game…I purchased an advance “ticket” to the BYU-San Diego State game to test out the technology…the result was a message that kept popping up on my screen that indicated the server was overloaded. When I called the CSTV customer service hotline, a message said all their operators were busy…this went on for well over an hour…by halftime, the score was 40-3 in favor of BYU…Fortunately, CSTV did refund for their lack of service…there were actually some people on the SDSU and BYU message boards who claimed to have watched the game online thru the service. The bottom line is that CSTV/Comcast needs to nail down a deal with at least one of the satellite TV services during this football season or the conference will begin to crumble…

►In just one weekend, three season ending injuries have dramatically impacted the outlook for three teams…Washington lost super playmaker QB Isaiah Stanback (#2 total yards in the Pac-10) and the Huskies could very well fall short in their quest to attain upper tier status in the conference and a significant bowl invite…Adrian Peterson’s ill-advised showboat dive into the end zone following a spectacular touchdown run left him with a broken collarbone, and out for the rest of the regular season…Oklahoma will struggle to replace AP’s offensive contributions the rest of the year, perhaps as early as this week when the Sooners host the Colorado Buffaloes…Stanford lost starting QB Trent Edwards for the season…all of the sudden, the prospect of the Cardinal going 0-12 this season appears even more realistic…

►More threes…three coaches on the hot seat? Obviously, Miami’s Larry Coker…add ASU’s Dirk Koetter to the list…and another Pac-10 coach…Stanford’s Walt Harris…sure, Harris is only in his second year, but the San Francisco Chronicle points out that Ted Leland, the A.D. who hired Harris, is gone, and the new A.D. is anxious to make his mark…not a good sign when you’re on the road to an 0-12 record and the Chron starts spreading such an idea…

►A playoff scenario I like… because it maintains conference affiliations with traditional bowl game partners…allows for 10 teams to participate…and it utilizes the major bowls that not only have the expertise of hosting national championship games, but the power to make this idea happen…here’s how it works:

Cotton Bowl and Holiday Bowl host play-in games to reach the final eight…the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the Top 15 final BCS poll and be a conference champion from the MAC, WAC, MWC, C-USA, or Sun Belt. Historically, you will note that there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool…the other three slots are filled by the highest ranking teams that are not conference champions…this includes Notre Dame, and any team, regardless of conference affiliation. In a season like this year, you would conceivably end up with this type of play-in scenario:

December 25
Holiday Bowl: Michigan or Ohio State versus Boise State: Winner goes to Sugar Bowl
Dec 26
Cotton Bowl: Auburn or Florida versus Notre Dame: Winner goes to Fiesta Bowl

Your final 8 slots would look like this:

Jan 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion versus Pac-10 champion
Orange Bowl: ACC champion versus Big East champion

Jan 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion versus Holiday Bowl winner
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion versus Cotton Bowl winner

Final 4 slots:

Jan 7
Rose Bowl winner versus Fiesta Bowl winner, with Rose and Fiesta alternating each year as host for the semi-final
Jan 8
Orange Bowl winner versus Sugar Bowl winner, with Orange and Sugar alternating each year as host for the semi-final

The host site for the national championship game would alternate between the four sites each year…this means that each major bowl site would host a final 4 game two of every 4 years, a national title game once every four years, and sit out once every four years…

National title game:

Jan 14 or 15
Winner of the Jan 7 and Jan 8 games

This only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played…one key addition to this scenario that adds vitality to the other bowl games…Each conference’s previous season bowl game record could add bonus points to their conference champion’s BCS final tally the following year…this gives all the teams playing in minor bowls extra incentive as they could be helping their own cause the following year.

Next week: A look at the most popular 16-team playoff scenario.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What is the motivational reminder on the yellow sign that Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players always touch before running onto the field? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a limited edition, collectible pin from the 2006 National Championship Rose Bowl Game between Texas and USC. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is…Rich Grabmeier, of Shawnee, Kansas…Rich was the first to correctly answer the question: Who are the only two teams to own an undefeated record over the Texas Longhorns (minimum two games played)? The correct answer was Syracuse and BYU. Syracuse is 2-0-1 against Texas and BYU is 2-0. Several participants answered “USC with a 4-0 record,” forgetting that the Trojans lost in the Rose Bowl Game national title contest earlier this year to Vince Young & Co.

►Heisman’s Dark Horse Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies…The Wolfe Man has officially been placed on probation in this column after being shut down by Western Michigan last week (25 yards on 18 carries) It’s hard to argue against Ohio State’s Troy Smith at this point, but I’ll give GW one more chance … Signature game versus Ohio State…272 all-purpose yards–172 of those yards coming on the ground, 1 TD…Season Stats: #1 ranked running back in Division 1…174 carries, 1,368 yards, 7.9 ypc, 195.4 ypg, 13 TDs…This week: Temple.

►Stats Padding Games of the Week: Arizona State Sun Devils (plus 23) over Stanford’s hapless Cardinal…Auburn Tigers (plus 32) devour the Tulane Green Wave…LSU Tigers (plus 32.5) maul the Fresno State Bulldogs…

►Best Games of the Week: Texas Longhorns @ Nebraska Cornhuskers…Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ Pittsburgh Panthers …Alabama Crimson Tide @ Tennessee Volunteers…Boston College Eagles @ Florida State Seminoles…Iowa Hawkeyes @ Michigan Wolverines … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Clemson Tigers…

►Upset specials of the week…I like the Washington State Cougars to pull off the improbable win over the Oregon Ducks…just because they are due to win a big one at home…Colorado went down to Georgia and almost pulled off an upset a few weeks ago…I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed playing on the road at Oklahoma, and now that they have a win in hand, I look for them to knock off an Oklahoma team that is still a bit stunned from losing Adrian Peterson for the season.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. Oh, the fire these Buckeyes have in their eyes…Ever since they raided Kinnick Stadium and smacked down the Iowa Hawkeyes, the schedule has looked like smooth sailing…but the mentality at Ohio State is “take no prisoners…” They have been cautioned by former Ohio State players about letdowns against inferior opponents and they are taking it to heart…just ask Bowling Green, Michigan State and Indiana, who have fallen in succession: 35-7, 38-7 and 44-3. All that stands between Ohio State and its annual rivalry game with Michigan is Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern. Surprisingly, Illinois is beginning to look like the most difficult of the three…that is, if we can truly say that any of these three forthcoming games look like a challenge for the Buckeyes. Troy Smith tossed four TD passes last week against Indiana and it’s looking more and more like the Heisman Trophy is going to be his to lose.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. Mission accomplished…Michigan’s toughest stretch of its schedule leading up to the Ohio State contest goes into the books in undefeated fashion. The Wolverines always seem to struggle with Iowa…the first half of last Saturday’s game was no different, as Michigan led only 3-0 at the half. By game’s end it was a solid 20-6 advantage for the Wolverines, prompting Iowa quarterback Drew Tate to say, “They are without question the best defense we’ve played all season.” Keep in mind the Hawkeyes just played Ohio State three weeks ago…Michigan will host Northwestern this weekend, followed by games against Ball State and Indiana…mark your calendars for Nov. 18, because that game against the Buckeyes will be a doozy.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS. The Trojans enjoyed a bye week that should go a long way toward helping rest and heal a rash of injuries on the squad…it seems like the entire conference is beginning to sense that the days of the invincible Troy are coming to an end, although we probably won’t see that happen until the Cal game in November. Earlier in the season, Oregon State looked to be a bit of a pushover opponent on the Trojans’ schedule…however, the Beavers are coming off a hard-fought road victory at Arizona that has evened their record at 4-4. They will be tough to beat in Corvallis if USC doesn’t bring its A-game and play smack-down football right from the get-go.

NO. 4 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. At last, Rich Rodriguez can finally speak the “L” word to his West Virginia football team. No, not “liberal” or “loser,” but “Louisville” … all season, the Nov. 2 Big East matchup with the Cardinals has been hanging there on the calendar, increasingly difficult to ignore. Now, after an unspectacular but workmanlike 37-11 victory over Connecticut on Thursday and a bye week next Saturday, there’s no one left to look past … “I told the guys: ‘Finally, you know who’s next,'” said Rodriguez after the road victory in Hartford extended the team’s winning streak to 14, longest in school history … as usual, it was the dynamic duo of Pat White and Steve Slaton who set the tone, with White rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown and throwing for 156, and Slaton gaining 128 on the ground … a fresh Mountaineer star also emerged in WR Rashawn Bolden, who caught three of White’s southpaw spirals for 95 yards and a 52-yard touchdown … the game was tied at three early in the second period until WVU simply shifted into another gear.

NO. 5 TEXAS LONGHORNS. It’s true — the Longhorns were lucky to escape frigid Lincoln, Neb. with a 22-20 victory last Saturday … Nebraska had the game in hand, holding a 20-19 lead and possession with just over four minutes left … unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, however, the same couldn’t be said for WR Terrence Nunn, who fumbled after a pass reception with 2:17 left … Texas recovered, redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy drove his team down to the five in the face of a stiff, snow-bearing wind and Ryan Bailey, a walk-on kicker who’d never appeared in a college game before, nailed the winning field goal … the thing is, these are the games that define programs and players, and McCoy certainly grew up in this one … now, for the bad news: a rash of injuries to defensive starters … DT Derek Locey is out for the season with a broken leg; LB Robert Killebrew was on crutches with a knee sprain earlier this week; DE Brian Robison has a bad ankle; and CB Tarell Brown a sore toe … the problem is, the Longhorns must travel to Lubbock this week to face an up-and-down Texas Tech no doubt rejuvenated by its 42-26 victory at Iowa State … Red Raider QB Graham Harrell threw six touchdown passes, three to Joel Filani.

NO. 6. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. The Cardinals just keep winning games, albeit not always very convincingly … Big East bottom feeder Syracuse had the Carrier Dome rocking and Louisville in trouble on Saturday, trailing just 21-13 and pinning the visitors at their own 7-yard line with five minutes left when George Stripling fumbled a kickoff … undaunted, the Cardinals methodically moved out of harm’s way and downfield, scored on Kolby Smith’s 31-yard run and escaped with a 28-13 victory that was closer than that score indicated …. UL quarterback Brian Brohm still showed some rust in his second week back after sitting out several games with a hand injury, hitting 18 of 25 passes but losing a fumble and an interception and managing no touchdown passes … Bobby Petrino’s team now has a week off, as does West Virginia, before those two teams probably settle the Big East title on Nov. 2.

NO. 7 AUBURN TIGERS. “Maybe the coaches won’t be afraid to put me in now,” Auburn’s Ben Tate said after his team’s 38-13 victory over Tulane … probably not: Tate, a true freshman, stepped in for injured tailbacks Kenny Irons and Tim Lester and rushed for 156 yards … Irons should play this week at Mississippi, though, along with walking wounded Tim Duckworth (OG) and Carl Stewart (FB) … the major problem is at center, where both starter Joe Cope and backup Jason Bosley have knee problems and a backup tackle had to make some snaps last Saturday … nor was Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville pleased with how Tulane QB Lester Ricard and RB Matt Forte had their way at times with his seventh-ranked defense … nevertheless, the fact remains that with Ole Miss, Arkansas State, Georgia and Alabama left, the Tigers have the most advantageous schedule of the SEC contenders (not that Georgia and Alabama will be easy, by any means) … QB Brandon Cox hit 12 of 13 passes in the first half and called it his best game of the season.

NO. 8 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. The encouraging thing for Tennessee after a narrow 16-13 victory over visiting Alabama is that Erik Ainge finally had a bad game — or, at least, a mediocre game — and the world (and UT’s hopes for an SEC title) didn’t end … Ainge was 28 of 46 for 302 yards — not bad on the surface — but failed to complete a touchdown pass while completing three other passes to people in crimson, two of them being Simeon Castille … Ainge did manage to knock Castille out of bounds on the second interception, saving a touchdown, and the Vols scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to pull it out … the Vols actually outdid the visiting Tide in rushing, passing, total yards, third-down conversions and fewer penalty yards … the difference-maker was under the “turnover” column, Ainge’s three picks … both defenses were unkind to the run, with Alabama star Kenneth Darby getting stuffed for just 26 yards, Tennessee’s Arian Foster 34 … Philip Fulmer’s Vols now embark upon on a three-game stretch that will make or break their season … at South Carolina, home against LSU, at Arkansas.

NO. 9 FLORIDA GATORS. The Gators had a week off to ponder their first loss of the season, at Auburn, and now meet Georgia on Saturday in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party at the Gator Bowl … whoops, you’re not supposed to say “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” any more — as if changing the nickname will miraculously convert all those daiquiris and bourbons into Dr. Peppers … anyway, the rivalry has normally produced a hangover for the Bulldogs, who have lost 14 of the last 16 to the Gators (by the way, Jacksonville is not a neutral site) … Georgia has lost two games this season , to Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but still trails Florida by just a game in the SEC East … an upset Saturday would be intoxicating, indeed … the game will feature some of the best defensive line play you’ll see anywhere, with Florida’s Ray McDonald, Jarvis Moss and Marcus Thomas matched against Georgia’s bruising bookends, Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses … Florida QB Chris Leak has traditionally played well against Georgia, while the Bulldogs are still juggling players at that key position … drink up!

NO. 10 CLEMSON. The Tigers can thank a fellow named Jolo Dunbar for keeping them out of the top five … Dunbar, who plays for Boston College, blocked Jad Dean’s extra point in overtime as the Eagles nipped the Tigers, 34-33 … other than that, Clemson has been on a roll … or make that a steamroll — over 50 points three times, over 60 once … Tommy Bowden’s team has had to break in a new quarterback (Will Proctor), and has lost its best wide receiver (Chansi Stuckey) and two best linebackers (Anthony Waters and Tremaine Billie) to injury … it just hasn’t mattered, as new stars like wideout Jacoby Ford and RB C.J. Spiller have emerged and sophomore RB James Davis has exploded … in last week’s 31-7 destruction of Georgia Tech, Davis gained 216 yards and Spiller 116, and the Tiger defense held All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson without a catch … C.J. Gaddis was assigned to Johnson much of the time, but said later, “Very seldom did I end up on him my myself. It wasn’t a solo mission” …nor was it all Johnson’s fault — a ferocious Clemson DL, led by Gaines Adams, kept Tech QB Reggie Ball running for his life … maybe with their newly unveiled purple uniforms, the Tigers could become the Purple People Eaters II … the low point of the game for Clemson was a season-ending knee injury to senior G Roman Fry … the high point was Spiller’s two quick moves on a swing pass that sent a pair of Yellow Jacket defenders flying in opposite directions before he spurted 50 yards down the right sideline … this Thursday, Clemson goes to Virginia Tech.

NO. 11 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. Another close brush with sure BCS death and…half the sports world praises the miracle finish while the other half remains thoroughly unconvinced by the Irish…there can be no doubt that Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija enjoy walking the tightrope on national TV, and their ability to pull a rabbit out of their lucky hat comes at a pretty high percentage…with Charlie Weis looking like the father of the Round Table Pizza spokesguy, this is truly becoming a first-rate circus act for NBC…if you saw the game against UCLA, you would have to believe that the Bruins are either better than you thought, or the Irish are not as good as their poll position might indicate. Poor clock management accompanied by a severe lack of tackling ability that manifested itself for just a few seconds at the end of the game doomed UCLA. You just didn’t feel like the Irish won the game, but rather, the Bruins handed it to them. The Irish slipped one spot in the polls for their lackluster performance against a team they were favored over by two touchdowns…Next up: the easiest stretch of Notre Dame’s schedule…Navy Midshipmen followed by Air Force, North Carolina and Army. The Air Force Academy Falcons might very well provide the toughest test.

NO. 12 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Wow. Talk about barn-burners…Cal looked to be set up for the easy win when Washington Huskies senior signal caller Isaiah Stanback, the second leading total yardage producer in the Pac 10, was knocked out for the season in UW’s loss to Oregon State the week before. However, the Huskies proved they practice the team concept by pushing the Bears into overtime before losing, 31-24. Cal QB Nate Longshore started off horribly, then recovered to register a 21 of 36, 291-yard performance…the star of the day for Cal was RB Marshawn Lynch…playing on two sprained ankles, Lynch rushed for 150 yards on 21 carries (7.1 ypc) and two TDs, the second one being the game winner in overtime. Cal receives a much-needed bye this week and then will host UCLA on Nov. 4.

NO. 13 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. There’s never a dull moment with Gus Malzahn as the Razorbacks’ new offensive coordinator … in last week’s 38-3 domination of Mississippi, Arkansas occasionally trotted out a tricked-up formation that had quarterback Mitch Mustain (who played for Malzahn at Springdale High near Fayetteville last fall) split as a wide receiver and star tailback Darren McFadden taking a direct snap, like some ghostly image form the long-ago days of the single wing … the rest of the time, when he was actually under center, freshman QB Mustain completed 12 of 15 passes for 157 yards, good news for head coach Houston Nutt, given Mustain’s tentative play in recent weeks … enjoying an easy stretch of schedule, the Hogs host Louisiana Monroe this Saturday.

NO. 14 LSU TIGERS. Alley Broussard ran through the Fresno State Bulldogs last Saturday night and out of coach Les Miles’ doghouse … the former Tiger star, who had been benched much of this season for weight and attitude problems, had 67 yards on five carries and a touchdown, prompting Miles to say: “He’s obviously quicker, obviously more capable, than he was at the beginning of the season. He ran fast and hard. He ran with purpose” … so did true freshman Keiland Williams, who gained 51 yards on six carries …. this unexpected output from Broussard (who was recently rumored to have quit the team) proved a nice complement to QB JaMarcus Russell’s 15 for 19, 210-yard, two-touchdown passing day … the Tiger defense, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine quarters … LSU now enjoys a bye week before traveling to Tennessee on Nov. 4.

NO. 15 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. BSU is set up in a can’t-lose scenario…the Broncos can’t lose, or they’ll likely tumble right out of the Top 25 and blow any chance of sniffing at the BCS Benjamins…and if they keep winning against their cream puff schedule, they can’t really lose, because it’s inevitable a handful of teams above them in the polls are going to lose before the season’s over…but, keep in mind that this now 15th-ranked team just had 433 total yards and 26 points dropped on them by the Idaho Vandals, a WAC lightweight that Dennis Erickson is trying to turn into a Boise State clone. Idaho was only down 28-26 with less than seven minutes in the game when the Broncos scored two quickies to distance themselves. Ian Johnson, once again, appears to be the lifeblood of the Broncos’ offense. He rushed for 183 yards and four scores off 27 carries in the win. BSU next faces Fresno State on Wednesday, Nov. 1. Both teams have byes this Saturday in preparation for their rivalry game. Prior to the start of the season, Fresno State looked like the Broncos’ stiffest competition for the WAC title, but the Bulldogs are in the midst of their worst season in 15 years, limping into next week’s game with a 1-6 overall record.

NO. 16 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. For now, at least, it’s the Big East’s Big Three … Rutgers, which has yet to play either Louisville or West Virginia, maintained pace with the conference co-leaders Saturday after a 20-10 victory over Pitt that kept Greg Schiano’s team unbeaten at 7-0 … yes, the Scarlet Knights have one of the worst passing attacks in the nation … and your point? … they also have Ray Rice, who rushed for 225 yards last Saturday against what was considered a strong Pitt defense … the underappreciated Rutgers defense also came up big, sacking Panthers QB Tyler Palko — the No. 2-rated passer in the country going in — four times … this week, it’s Connecticut on Sunday, followed by a bye week, followed by a No. 9 home game with Louisville.

NO. 17 WISCONSIN BADGERS. Perhaps these Badgers should have been ranked higher to start the season…they are certainly playing at a level above their current ranking…Wisconsin entered the game with the nation’s sixth-ranked defense and held Purdue, the nation’s fourth-ranked offense, to 286 yards, 185 below its average…Boilermaker QB Curtis Painter came into the game against the Badgers ranked second in passing yards. His result versus the visiting Wisconsin defense was a dismal 50 percent (20 for 40, 187 yards and one pick). The Badgers’ outstanding frosh running back, P.J. Hill Jr., pounded out 161 yards off 29 touches, good for two touchdowns. Hill now has 1,172 yards on 202 carries for the season. Wisconsin hosts a steadily improving Illinois team this week.

NO. 18. BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. Once again, BC had to wait until the final play of the game before savoring a victory … this time, a Hail Mary pass from Drew (He’s No Doug Flutie) Weatherford to Chris Carr was intercepted in the end zone by Eagle Larry Anam … the Eagles haven’t dominated anybody (unless it was Division I-AA Maine and a startling 22-3 Thursday thumping of Virginia Tech) have no marquee names, and lost to so-so North Carolina State … still, nobody else has been able to beat them, including Clemson, BYU and the Hokies … Florida State wore black uniforms to honor the Seminole tribe … that color could also have symbolized the death of Bobby Bowden’s ACC title hopes, as his team slipped to 2-3 in league play; BC hosts Buffalo this week before a key Nov. 4 matchup with Wake Forest.

NO. 19 OKLAHOMA. On a day when the University of Oklahoma honored the late Prentice Gautt for breaking the color barrier in the Sooner football program 50 years ago, Allen Patrick dedicated strong effort against Colorado to another OU back — Adrian Peterson … Peterson, who broke his collarbone in the previous game with Iowa State, watched from the sidelines as Patrick took his place and carried the ball 35 times for 110 yards in a 24-3 victory over the Buffaloes … “I just made my mind up to go out there and give punishment,” said Patrick, who relied more on persistence (his longest run was 12 yards) than flash … coached by Peterson on occasion (“I told him to look for openings and not always run between the tackles,” the injured star said), Patrick scored once and carried the ball seven straight times during one drive … despite its dismal 1-7 record, Colorado came into the game ranked ninth in the country in defending against the run … the Sooners now embark on a rough patch that takes them to Missouri this Saturday, to Texas A&M the following week, then home against Texas Tech.

NO. 20 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS. So close, it had to hurt … were it not for Terrence Nunn’s fumble after making a third-down catch with just over two minutes remaining against Texas, the Cornhuskers might have made a significant surge up the poll thermometer … instead, Nebraska lost the ball, an unknown walk-on became part of Longhorn lore with a 22-yard field goal and Texas won, 22-20 … the Huskers have now lost only to the participants in last year’s BCS Championship Game, Southern Cal and Texas … Zac Taylor threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yarder to Maurice Purify — a remarkable performance given the swirling wind, biting cold and late-game snow flurries … unfortunately, the Nebraska offense was forced to become one-dimensional — that dimension being Taylor — when the rugged Longhorn defense held the home team to 38 rushing yards … Nebraska travels to Oklahoma State this week.

NO. 21 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. It’s back to the drawing board for Chan Gailey and his assistant coaches, who had to be scratching their heads after seeing Clemson not only overwhelm their Yellow Jackets, 31-7, but hold pass-catching superstar Calvin Johnson to, uh, zero catches … the Jackets couldn’t get their offense untracked, and Tiger backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller made the Tech defenders look like Keystone Kops at times … meanwhile, Gailey’s men were dominated at the line of scrimmage … this week, Tech hosts a Miami team in a nasty mood.

NO. 22 TEXAS A&M AGGIES. The Aggies won a 34-33 overtime squeaker over the Oklahoma State Cowboys behind rambling QB Stephen McGee (17-26, 192 yards, two TDs and 17 rushes for 86 yards) and Red Bryant, the A&M defensive lineman who blocked the Cowboys’ extra point kick in overtime. Somebody’s gotta give in the Big 12 during the final five weeks of conference play as these 7-1 Aggies will face Baylor, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas to wrap their regular season. It’s difficult to imagine the Ags doing better than 2-2 in this final stretch of the season…anything better than that will see them moving up–and not out of the Top 25.

NO. 23 MISSOURI TIGERS. Soph sensation Chase Daniel led the Tigers to a 41-21 thrashing of the Kansas State Wildcats, terminating a 13-game losing streak to the Big 12 rivals in the process. Daniel was nothing short of spectacular, going 24-31 for 262 yards and four TDs through the air, while adding 47 yards on 13 rushing attempts…the game was played in a driving rain storm…Daniel broke the season record for TD passes by a Mizzou QB, passing Terry McMillan’s record of 18 that had stood since 1969. The next two weeks will be the most important games of the year for the Tigers, and, quite frankly, the most important games in perhaps the past two decades…the set of games will determine the Big 12’s Northern Division champion and berth in the Big 12 championship versus Texas…Mizzou hosts No. 19 Oklahoma this weekend and then goes on the road to Lincoln on Nov. 4 to face 20th-ranked Nebraska.

NO. 24 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. The Demon Deacons prevailed 25-23 over the North Carolina State Wolfpack last weekend to go 6-1 on the season…it was the first time since 1984 that Wake Forest had beaten the Wolfpack in their own den… Sam Swank kicked three field goals of more than 50 yards and Riley Skinner threw a touchdown pass to lead the Demon Deacons…two of Swank’s FGs went for 53 yards and tied the school record…North Carolina is up next and then the going gets really rough for Wake Forest…it’ll close out the season with No. 18 Boston College, at Florida State, Virginia Tech and at Maryland. The Deacons will be lucky to go 3-2 over these last five games, but that will land them a 9-3 record and a mid-tier bowl invite.

NO. 25 OREGON DUCKS. Sooner or later, one of the Pac-10’s powerhouse programs was going to choke on the road in Pullman. The Washington State Cougars are a speedy, talented team and almost knocked off USC a few weeks ago. Cal went into Pullman and escaped with a 21-3 win, its lowest output since scoring 18 against Tennessee in the season opener…the point is, Oregon’s 34-23 loss was that “sooner or later” game and it doesn’t register as a major upset to the pollsters. Duck QB Dennis Dixon struggled under a 12-20, 102-yard, two-interception performance and was lifted in favor of Brady Leaf…Leaf rallied the Ducks from a 27-3 deficit in the second half to reach the final score. He threw for 262 yards and two TD passes in the relief effort…Perhaps the biggest key to the Ducks’ loss was RB Jonathan Stewart’s 28 yards on 11 carries…ironically, Wazzu QB Alex Brink was the hero of the game for the Cougars…he was the Oregon Prep Player of the Year and the Ducks never tried to recruit him…Brink went 20-23 for 179 yards and two TD tosses. Oregon gets a schedule breather this week against Portland State with big games against Washington and USC looming in the near future.

BYU Keys to Game vs. Air Force Falcons

There really is no way to beat the U.S. Air Force…that is, if you are talking about those heroic men and their magnificent flying machines that protect and promote freedom around the globe. However, on the football field it’s a different matter, where the Air Force Academy grinds it out on the ground more like a platoon of crack infantrymen storming an enemy stronghold.

The Falcons are tough and can hang with any team on any given day, as evidenced by their 31-30 loss at No. 11 Tennessee earlier this season (when they opted for two points and the win rather than OT). They can also be thwarted from their battle plan, as San Diego State managed to do last week while capturing its first win of the year at the Falcons’ expense. The Academy squad is especially dangerous on its own turf, but it is possible to escape Colorado Springs with a victory if you can execute your game plan and keep the Falcons’ ground troops off the field as much as possible.

In college football, teams are more susceptible to emotional swings within a game and sudden shifts of momentum. Highly disciplined teams, like Air Force and the other service academies, tend to weather these shifts in a game better than their opponents do because of their rigorous, disciplined training and lifestyle. You can never count them out of any game if they have enough time to put points on the board with their running game. Therein is the first key to beating Air Force:

Key No. 1 – Keep the Falcons’ offense off the field

The Air Force option attack is designed to steadily chew up yardage on long, clock-eating drives. They lead the MWC in time of possession, averaging 33:17 minutes per game. Led by QB Shaun Carney, Air Force spreads rushing touches out to as many as eight players during the course of a game, with Carney and RB Chad Hall being the most dangerous of all the Falcon rushers. When executed properly, the Air Force option is incredibly tough on your defense. It is a relentless system, it just keeps attacking your defenders at multiple read points along the line of scrimmage, always penetrating, counter-reacting quickly to defender reactions, trying to find the most vulnerable area to exploit.

As BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall pointed out in his weekly pre-game press conference, “There are two to three elements per play that have to be defended with precise execution. You have to play assignment sound and you have to play physical and with effort with all 11 players at the same time. Any scheme that asks you to do that is very difficult to stop.”

Even in last week’s loss, the Falcons gained 297 yards on the ground and had an 11-minute advantage in time of possession over the Aztecs. It was a recipe for disaster and SDSU was extremely fortunate to get the win. BYU will need to be very physical from the start and its tackling has to be sure and decisive.

The Falcons are capable of making the big play, especially if your defensive backfield gets caught out of their assignments. Justin Handley and Vic Thompson are the leading receivers for Air Force with 17.4 and 10.6 yards per-catch averages, respectively. Air Force is far from being a pass-happy team because it don’t need to be. The Falcons average only 10 attempts per game, and will rarely abandon their running game unless it becomes impossible to keep pace with their opponent’s offense and the time remaining on the clock.

The Cougar offense needs to stay balanced and establish its preferred tempo for the contest. A balanced attack will keep the Falcons guessing and mitigate their blitz packages. Last year, Curtis Brown rushed for 219 yards, but he’s currently nursing a tender knee that was slightly sprained in the UNLV contest. If he cannot pack the pigskin this week, hope that Fui Vakapuna or Manase Tonga can turn up the heat on the ground. John Beck will find that his tight ends match up very well against the Falcon linebackers in man coverage. The best-case scenario is to start strong on both sides of the ball and build up enough of a cushion in the point spread early. It’s critical to avoid a see-saw scoring affair with Air Force.

Key No. 2 – Stress execution and force turnovers

Execution is critical against the smaller Falcon defenders. Drive-killing penalties and turnovers have to be minimized or outright eliminated. BYU leads the Mountain West Conference in penalties, although it has improved significantly since the first three games this season. In contrast, Air Force is the least penalized team in the conference. Both teams rank among the conference leaders in turnover margin.

In a close game, turnovers and fourth-down stops are the only types of occurrences on the field that immediately cause three things to happen: 1) your opponents are halted from a scoring opportunity; 2) you jump-start your own scoring opportunity; and 3) you dramatically shift the momentum of the game in your favor. Momentum is that emotional surge that ripples throughout your sideline and elevates the intensity of your teammates’ play on both sides of the ball, often leading to more big plays. It’s a palpable feeling and easily recognizable when it occurs, even by the spectators.

The Falcons are currently converting their fourth-down attempts at an alarming 71.4 percent rate and they also lead the conference in third-down conversion rate at 59.3 percent effectiveness–all the more reason for BYU to execute, force turnovers and control the momentum of the game. The Cougars must win the turnover tally this Saturday if it’s a closely fought, you score-I score type of game.

Key No. 3 – Special teams must deliver the goods

Air Force has a punter/placekicker who has been instrumental in each of its wins this year. Zach Sasser has a 43.1 punting average and is seven out of nine in field goal attempts with a 48-yarder to his credit. Conversely, BYU’s Derek McLaughlin is punting at a 41.5 clip and Jared McLaughlin is 8 for 11 in field goal attempts with his longest being a 50-yarder. The Cougars have an edge on returns with McKay Jacobson, Nate Meikle and Curtis Brown racking up some pretty solid yardage averages (13.2 on punts, 19.4 on kickoffs). On special team defense, Russell Tialavea leads BYU with two blocked kicks. If you’ll recall the Boston College contest, both McLaughlins (no relation) played a major role in keeping the Cougars competitive. Derek averaged 49.5 yards per punt in that game, with two of his punts pinning the Eagles deep in their own territory during key exchanges. Jared had three field goals against B.C. with his longest of the season coming in that game.

In a close game, special teams are often the determining factor. One need not look any farther than BYU’s two losses this year for illustrations of that fact. Jared McLauglin missed one field goal against Arizona and two against Boston College. A bad snap on a FG attempt in the B.C. game caused another missed scoring opportunity. While other factors certainly played a role in the two early season losses, had the Cougars’ kicking game been perfect this year, BYU would be sporting a 7-0 record and would easily be ranked higher than Boise State’s current No. 15 ranking.

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There’s a lot riding on this week’s game. It’s a must-win for Air Force, if it hopes to win the conference this year. A win over BYU would put the Falcons in control of their own destiny–and a loss would knock the Flyboys two games back while allowing the Cougars to retain driver’s seat privileges in the MWC. Revenge has played an important role in the past decade of Air Force/BYU football, and this year’s payback rights belong to the Falcons.

Over the past nine years, the Falcons have won five times, so the Cougars certainly don’t represent the impossible to this year’s cadets. Brigham Young needs to play mistake-free football and execute its game plan with focus and intensity. If John Beck & Co. can manage a performance that equals their collective talent potential, they should be able to escape the ambush Air Force has planned.